‘Gambling with our health’: Twin River dealers decry loss of health benefits amid pandemic

Blackstone Valley

LINCOLN, R.I. (WPRI) — When the state shuttered Twin River’s casinos last year, it was in the name of public health. But the months-long closures had an unintended consequence: some 200 dealers are now poised to lose their health insurance in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.

Twin River employees that spoke with 12 News believed they would be eligible for benefits if they worked at least 30 hours a week when the casinos reopened. But that average needed to be sustained over a six-month period. Extended closures and limited hours made it impossible for some workers to meet eligibility requirements.

Louis Pear has been a dealer at the casino for nearly five years and said he was careful to make sure he hit that 30-hour threshold when he returned to work.

“I don’t think anybody thought that they were going to use the time that we weren’t at work against us, you know, during a furlough,” Pear said.

One employee, who asked that her name not be published out of fear of losing her job, said she and approximately 214 dealers at Lincoln and Tiverton are now at risk of being uninsured.

“If you didn’t get called back the first week of July, it literally made it impossible for you to keep your insurance,” she explained. “It didn’t matter if you worked 40 hours every single week since you got called back. If you got called back late July, August, September — that meant you weren’t going to keep your insurance.”

The dealers we spoke with said they weren’t notified in advance, and found out when a list of ineligible employees was posted recently at the casino. Some expressed concern that dealers who haven’t been recalled from furlough might still be unaware that their benefits have lapsed.

“There’s no need, this entire thing could have been avoided had they just, when they called you back let you know: ‘Because it’s so late, you’re probably not going to get insurance,'” one dealer said.

Pear said health insurance is critically important to him because he has a heart condition.

“I feel like they’re gambling with our health, our livelihoods, our lives, and it’s just not right,” he said.

In a statement sent to 12 News, Twin River spokesperson Patti Doyle said, “Regrettably, continued COVID-19 guidance of reduced hours and limited offerings has necessitated the reduction of some employee hours. We all look forward to the day when these restrictions are lifted.”

Coverage for the now-ineligible employees was set to expire at the end of December, but Michael Sabitoni said the dealers’ union, Local 711, stepped in to ensure the workers would at least keep their insurance through the end of the month.

“I am currently exploring avenues with the employer to minimize the amount of people that might go into the category of uninsured, so I’m actively working on it as we speak,” he said.

Pear said he’s worried about what might happen if things don’t change by Feb. 1.

“Insurance is of the utmost importance to me. I couldn’t get by without insurance,” he said. “I wish they would step up and do the right thing.”

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